PICK! ASR Theater ~~ The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: F-U-N!

By Sue Morgan and Barry Willis

The 50th anniversary season of Petaluma’s beloved Cinnabar Theater is off to a rowdy, rollicking start with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, “Spelling Bee” delivers an evening of light-hearted musical comedy.

In the auditorium of Putnam Valley Middle School, we meet six adolescent contestants: returning champ Charlito “Chip” Tolentino (Alejandro Eustaquio); Leaf Coneybear (Zane Walters), who designs his own clothing and spells while in a trance-like state; Marcy Park (Gabi Chun), a high-achiever who speaks six languages and for whom failure is not an option; William Morris Barfée (Trevor Hoffmann), who spells using a unique “magic foot” technique in which he writes the letters out with his foot as he recites them; Logainne “Schwartzy” Schwartzandgrubenierre (Tina Traboulsi), who spells words out on her arm before reciting them; and Olive Ostrovsky (Krista Joy Serpa), whose absent mother is on a nine-month-long spiritual retreat in India. Olive anxiously awaits the arrival of her father as she has not yet paid the entrance fee.

…”Spelling Bee” is not to be missed. Get tickets now! We mean it!

Each child – excepting Leaf – has won an individual school’s bee. The pressure is on-they’re vying for the chance to go to the national competition in Washington, DC.

“Spelling Bee” cast at work. Photo courtesy Cinnabar Theater.

The Putnam County event is hosted by a former Spelling Bee champion, and now the county’s top realtor, Rona Lisa Peretti (Karen Miles) and a dour school vice principal, Douglas Panch (John Browning). Peretti is a perky, all-smiles dynamo, while Panch is a no-nonsense adminstrator. They ride herd on a group of very smart, gregarious, and nerdy kids—and a few audience members pulled onstage, we hope not against their will.

It’s a quick-moving hilarious show backed by a great band (music directed by Bill Keck) with many intriguing subplots, lots of goofy action, and some stunning choreography by Bridget Condoni. Sam Minnifield puts in charming performance as Mitch Mahoney, a local bad boy doing his community service by helping out with the Bee. Donnie Frank’s costumes go a long way toward establishing each of the characters, all delightfully portrayed by some hugely skilled and enormously uninhibited actors. They’re all tremendous, but Trevor Hoffman, Gabi Chun, and Krista Joy Serpa are standouts. Wow!

Photo courtesy Cinnabar Theater.

Director Zachary Hasbany has coaxed the absolute maximum from a brilliant cast. The show by Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn is a recurring favorite among community theater troupes, and for good reason. It’s clean, harmless, happy, and uplifting—an absolute joy from beginning to end. Did we mention incredibly clever? “Spelling Bee” is not to be missed. Get tickets now! We mean it!


Contributing Writer Sue Morgan is a literature-and-theater enthusiast in Sonoma County’s Russian River region. Contact: sstrongmorgan@gmail.com



ASR Nor Cal Edition Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: barry.m.willis@gmail.com


ProductionThe 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Written byRachel Sheinkin and William Finn
Directed byZachary Hasbany
Producing CompanyCinnabar Theater
Production DatesThrough Sept 25th
Production Address3333 Petaluma Blvd North
Petaluma, CA 94952
Telephone (707) 763-8920
Tickets$30 – $45
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!